Tirzah Mae writes

Tirzah Mae loves to write.

Her little notes are strewn about the house and on every available surface (I haven’t had the time or energy to repaint basically the whole basement after last year’s great graffiti-ing. Sigh.)

Anyway, now that she’s doing phonics, her invented spellings are improving. She doesn’t always sound them back out when she’s reading them back to me, though – so I had to laugh when she read this:

Tirzah Mae's writing

“Tirzah Mae
Wrecking truck”

I had to tell her that I didn’t think her memory served her correctly, since that last line clearly says wrecking BACKHOE!

Making Connections

Unit studies were all the rage when I was reading about homeschooling in my mid-teens. Monthly themes governed every subject in the homeschooling curriculum.

A unit study on bugs would have children reading about bugs, catching bugs, counting bugs, exploring the bug ecosystem, learning about how bugs are used in different cultures or throughout history. Bug art would abound.

If mom didn’t have the time, energy, or creativity to come up with her own unit study, websites and books offered an abundance of options.

Learning like this is more natural, the unit study people declared.

I wished I could jump on the bandwagon, but it was unfortunately too difficult for me to figure out how to connect bugs to calculus.

It wouldn’t be long before a radical old approach became popular, thanks to Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind. This new approach was much more systematic than either the unit study approach or the traditional school approach (at least as far as social studies is concerned).

Wise and Wise Bauer’s brand of classical education focused on a four year cycle for both history and science – strictly (for history) and loosely (for science) following the progression of historical thought through the ages.

The Well-Trained Mind gave an example of how students make connections, even when their mothers don’t plan in such a way as to make the connections explicit. They used “Mars” as an example. A student might learn the mythology of Mars when studying the Roman Empire and later learn about the planet Mars (red with blood, like the warlike god). Likewise, he will learn about the martial arts and will trace the term “martial” back to the god of war. Each bit of knowledge becomes a hook upon which other pieces of knowledge (from disparate disciplines) are hung.

When I read this example, I nodded my head. Sure, I acknowledged that was probably true. It’s like when you get a new car and suddenly see that make and model all over the road. It’s not that those cars weren’t already there, it’s just that you became more aware of them.

But apart from my car example, I couldn’t really think of a time when I’d had “hooks” to hang new information on.

Then my husband and I checked out Tom Reiss’s The Black Count to listen to during our fourth of July travels. The Black Count tells the story of the novelist Alexandre Dumas’ father (also named Alexandre Dumas), a general during the French Revolution.

Now, until a year ago, what little I knew of the French Revolution came from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (not a bad read by any means, but certainly not a comprehensive introduction to the Revolution.) But last year, that changed when Daniel and I started listening to Mike Duncan’s Revolutions Podcast. We listened as Duncan gave a history of the English Revolution, and then the American Revolution, and then the French (he’s not done with the French Revolution yet – and I haven’t listened past the first dozen or so podcasts on the French Revolution.) As we listened, I’ll admit that my eyes sometimes glazed over and my mind started wandering. So much was so unfamiliar – the names, the events, the political bodies.

But as we listened to The Black Count, something strange happened. I started hearing the names, the political bodies, the events I’d heard before. And I listened more carefully this time around. It picqued my curiosity to read more, to relisten, to become more familiar with the French Revolution.

I thought of the differences between unit studies and a more systematic approach as I listened.

While Daniel and I were listening to one podcast after another after another of Duncan’s Revolutions, I got worn out with the topic. If I’d have been listening to The Black Count concurrently, I likely would have ignored the parts about the French Revolution, thinking I’d heard it before.

But, listening to it several months later, I was able to see the Revolution through fresh eyes, able to enjoy it, able to pass through again to impress the events more deeply upon my own memory.

I feel that there must be application to how I choose to homeschool someday, but I’m not sure exactly what it is.

I’m still rather enamored with the Bauer and Wise Bauer approach to history studies. I still rather enjoy immersing myself in a topic every once in a while. But I think this has reminded me that connections can be anywhere – and that it’s okay to let them arise naturally.

I don’t have to beat my children (or myself) over the head with learning. I have to make plenty of good books, good audiovisual learning opportunities (like Duncan’s podcasts!), good educational experiences available to my children.

They will make connections – even if it takes them until they’re 30 to start recognizing it.

My students think I’m crazy

As many of you know, I am a teaching assistant for a couple of “Scientific Principles of Food Preparation” laboratories. For our first lab session, we discuss and experiment with sensory analysis of food–how our senses affect our perception of flavor.

I was lecturing as usual, and as usual, I was starting to get excited about the subject material.

“I was just reading a book about the senses called See What I’m Saying. It’s a fantastic book, by the way,” I told them. “And in this book, the author describes a psychological experiment in which…”

As my eyes swept over my class of 25 students, I realized that I had lost them.

They think I’m crazy.

How can I find descriptions of psychological experiments interesting? How can I enjoy the science behind cooking? How can I get so excited about food and nutrition and families and…

Few of them understand the thirst for knowledge, the relentless desire to know why and how and how to change things. They are in school because they don’t know what else to do. They have few driving passions.

They don’t understand me.

My students have generally been polite and respectful–but our interactions make clear that the majority don’t get it.

They do what it takes to get a grade from that crazy-enthusiastic, crazy-tough TA–but they don’t understand why I am the way I am.

But in every class, there are a few students who agree that I’m crazy, but make it their mission to dig a bit deeper. They listen intently, not just to get a grade, but to figure out why I find this so exciting. They start to ask questions, start to search out answers, start to find it exciting too.

This is why I love teaching.

Lecturing dead-eyed classrooms that couldn’t care less can be frustrating. Hearing half a dozen lame excuses as to why homework can’t be handed in on time can be draining. Dealing with students who can’t understand why they don’t automatically get As in my class can be exasperating.

Being considered crazy starts to get old.

But then one student looks a little deeper, discovers crazy can be good, and starts to go crazy for knowledge herself.

This is why I teach.

‘Cause the world needs more crazies.

The Voice of the Accuser

“What did you do this summer?” she asks.

I struggle to come up with a decent answer–an appropriate answer. I want to say, “Apart from trying to write a thesis blind, you mean?”

“Uh, I’ve been canning, and blogging–”

“You’ve been canning?” Her incredulosity makes me want to shrink out of the room. It sounds so frivolous, so ridiculous.

After I’ve left, my mind whirls over the dozens of things I could have said to justify my summer. I helped my brother and sister-in-law with their wedding. I drove my mom to see my grandparents. I completed two quilts, a couple of pillow shams, a dresser scarf, and over a dozen potholders. I crocheted a scarf and a half dozen dishcloths. I embroidered a set of day-of-the-week tea towels. I cleaned my house and prepared meals. I babysat and helped a friend weed. I applied for jobs and went to interviews. I read and reviewed books. I blogged. I canned. I rode bicycles with a friend. And, of course, I tried to write a thesis blind.

Even as I contemplate what I’ve done this summer, I know it would have been pointless to mention it. I think back to her raised eyebrows when I read over my lunch break. “What are you reading?–Ugh, why are you reading that?” I remember the countless questions–“How many hours are you taking?”–and the snorts when I say it’s important that I spend time with church and family. The implicit message, etched into me with every interaction?

You don’t do enough. You don’t work hard enough. The stuff you spend your time on is worthless. You are worthless.

My heart believes her message even as my head rebels.

I do work hard. I don’t waste my time on frivolous things. Relationships are important. I’m not worthless.

She is the voice I’ve heard since before I ever met her, the voice that held me in bondage for years. It labels me insufficient, unlovely, incomplete, a failure. The voice that once, inside my head, told me “You’ll never amount to anything. You have all these goals but what have you ever done?”–that voice is now an external voice, attached to a face, to a woman, my accuser. “Just give up,” it says. “You don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute. You’re a waste of time, of energy. Take the easy way out.”

I firmly tell her NO–I’m not taking the easy way out. I’m not going to quit. I’m not a failure. My ideas have merit, my work is worthwhile. I’m not going to argue with her evaluation of me–I know by now that it does no good. But I’m not going to bow to her evaluation of me either. I’m not going to bow to the accuser who says I’m still in my chains.

I’m going to take my heart–that heart that’s smarting from wounds inflicted years ago, that heart whose wounds have been reopened by her word’s claw–I’m going to take my heart to the Great Physician who bore my wounds already. He bore my insufficiency, my unloveliness, my incompleteness. The stripes on His back are my heart’s healing. He took my worthlessness, granting me worth. He bore my wrongness, giving me righteousness. He experienced my failure, and declared success.

I’m taking my heart to Jesus–for by His wounds, I am healed.

A bizarre turn I’m unwilling to ascribe to fate

At the close of the last semester, I had every reason to believe that I’d be offered another teaching assistantship for the fall semester. Two instructors had approached me saying that they would like to have me as a TA–but the word around the department was that another person, a professor, was also interested in having me TA for her.

I made my plans accordingly. I had enough money in my checking account to live on throughout the summer. I would spend the summer working on my thesis and then take the assistantship in the fall. Come December, if I had not already found a job, I had enough money in my savings account to last 4-6 months while I searched for a job. I considered it a comfortable margin.

And so I proceeded.

But when May passed and June passed and July started to pass me by without receiving an assistantship offer, I had to assume that I would not be offered an assistantship. I started searching for positions in the Lincoln and Omaha area (having promised my roommate I’d remain in Lincoln until December.)

Today, I received a phone call from a University number–nothing surprising for me since I’d applied for several positions at the University.

But the call was not from one of those positions. It was from the Nutrition Graduate Department’s Administrative Assistant.

“Hi, Rebekah,” she said. “I’m getting ready to process payroll for the fall and realized that I still hadn’t received an acceptance from you for your assistantship.”

“That’s interesting,” I replied. “I hadn’t heard that I received an assistantship.”

But I had received an assistantship–and she’d emailed me the offer May 7, the last day of classes for fall semester. When I hadn’t promptly returned my acceptance, she e-mailed me again.

I received neither e-mail.

This time, she forwarded me the letter and I received it just fine.

She explained that I should pay no attention to the deadline for acceptance. She’d process my payroll papers and I could mail or drop off my acceptance any time.

So I have a job through December. I have the whole time. The rumors were true and I’ll be working with the professor.

A bizarre turn?


Fate or luck?

I’m not willing to say that.

I believe that God is sovereign over every event of my life–even over misdirected or otherwise lost e-mails.

Why were both of those e-mails lost?

Maybe God wanted me to learn trust. Maybe God intends me to have one of these jobs I’ve applied for and knew I wouldn’t have applied for them if I had been secure in the knowledge of the assistantship. Maybe I’ll never know God’s plan in this.

But one thing I know: God knew exactly the moment each of those e-mails entered the ether–and He had a perfect plan for when and how and why things would turn out the way they did.

Because my life does not rest on the caprices of fate, but in the hands of a sovereign, all-powerful, all-loving God.

Painful Pity

I needed to talk to my professor about some papers–but I knew I couldn’t do it while other students were in the room. So I waited patiently until the last student left.

And then came the moment I’d been afraid of.

“Rebekah, how are you?” he said in that tone that says he actually cares, that he’d be willing to hear the whole story if I wanted to share it.

Just as I suspected, my eyes filled with tears and I could only take a deep breath and shrug, silently cursing myself for letting him see my weakness.

It’s been a hard semester. Probably the hardest of my life.

I’ve worked hard to not let it show–to not let my personal life infringe on my work and school life. If that meant spending long hours at home working on something that previously took me minutes, that’s what I’d do. If it meant crying out all of my tears in the evening so none could be left for work hours, that’s what I did. If it meant avoiding people in “normal life” so that I could be “on” for the hours that I had to be teaching or in meetings, so be it.

I think I was pretty successful. If any of my classmates (except Chante, the classmate who’s also a friend) or my supervisors or my teachers noticed, they didn’t let on. Except for Dr. Newman.

Dr. Newman saw through my disguise and had compassion.

And I hate it. I hate it that he has compassion on the weakness I cannot have compassion on.

“Don’t be nice to me!” I want to shout. “Don’t allow me this weakness! I shouldn’t be weak. I can’t be weak. Despise me, hate me, be harsh with me–anything but kindness is welcome.”

I don’t want to accept my weakness–and it galls me that he accepts it when I will not.

Why is being shown compassion so painful?

Dead Week

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the week before finals is “Dead Week”–the week in which professors are not supposed to give homework or tests unless previously scheduled. Of course, this just means that the professors are careful to schedule homework and tests in advance.

My modus operadi throughout my undergraduate career was to get sick every dead week. I’m moderately (Hah!) Type A and tend to work myself rather hard over the course of the semester. By dead week, my body has had enough of the stress I’ve inflicted upon it and it simply gives in. I stay in bed for a week, wishing I were dead–and then rise again on the seventh day to take finals.

Then came grad school.

I don’t remember whether I got sick in my first few semesters of grad school. It all begins to blur in my mind. But I do know what this semester’s dead week has looked like–and I definitely had no time to get sick.

I TA for a class of 200 students–and we gave them an assignment due last Thursday. So I’ve been frantically grading all week. Then on Thursday, I administered a lab practical to my other (much smaller) class. My supervisor and I sat down right away to get the practicals graded.

I had a job interview on Tuesday (I didn’t get the job–which I’m feeling ambivalent about.) I had a bit of an emotional shock on Wednesday. I had a major physical shock on Thursday. And yesterday, I baked a cake.

Actually, it wasn’t just a cake. It was a cake plus several dozen cupcakes. My sister is throwing a bridal shower for our sister-in-law-to-be today, and she’d asked me to prepare the cake. No problem. But our family…well, we have a rather large family. And even with half of the invitees not being able to show up, we’re still expecting 35 or so at the shower. So LOTS of cake making and decoration was in order.

My sister and our good friend Mary are in town for the shower–so I spent some time with them last night.

And I woke up today with an allergy-stuffed nose, a pressure-related headache, a heaviness in my fingers and toes that indicates dehydration, and a realization that I’d made it through dead week without getting sick.

Let’s hope I can do the same for finals week.

The Reluctant Instructor

Wei Ming was one of my student employees when I was managing at Harper Dining Services. He was there when I started and there when I left. I believe he graduated the same semester I began my internship. In general, he was a quiet but conscientious employee.

Fast forward a year. I arrived in my statistics lab to discover that the TA was none other than my old employee Wei Ming. I wondered if it might be odd–being under a student I was once over. But my fears were unfounded. Wei Ming has turned out to be a knowledgeable and articulate teacher.

Our professor was gone today and will be gone on Monday, so Wei Ming is teaching the class. He confessed in lab on Wednesday that he was not looking forward to teaching. My thoughts on hearing that were somewhat different–and rightly so. Under today’s reluctant instructor, I understood the subject material better than I have in weeks.

I’m home

After a jam-packed weekend in Denver at FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo), I am now home.

I talked politics with Jeff, spent way too much money on food, attended interesting lectures, got scads of free junk, and even drove the van for a while.

I did NOT jump out of an airplane, talk to a homeless person, drink alcohol, or complain to a waiter (as others in my group did).

I graded papers, collected CPEUs (Continuing Professional Education Units), schmoozed with UNL alums, saw some of my internship preceptors, watched the unfortunate football game, and slept on Dr. K’s floor.

I attended a great session on mindful eating (more on a B3-RD post later), and an almost worthless session on blogging (it was created for someone who had little to no awareness of social media). I learned about nutrition for kids with Asperger’s and about the development of the American Dietetic Association’s Evidence Analysis Library. I cleared up a question about high fructose corn syrup (look forward to this one on a B3-RD post) and collected an awful lot of simply thick (I’ll probably post about this too–even though it’s unlikely to be useful for you personally.)

All in all, it was a good conference. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation, the company, the food, the room, the drive (except maybe the drive back). But now I’m pretty much pooped.